The first Yom Haatzmaut in 1949 was called Yom Hamedina. The Chief Rabbinate prepared these original directions before the celebration but changed them before they were publicized:
We don’t say Tachnun (supplication prayer) or give eulogies.
At Mincha, before Ashrei a memorial prayer is said for the soldiers who fell. After the Shmoneh Esrei, Hallel is recited without a blessing and the rabbi gives a speech about the importance of the day.
One is supposed to give a lot of Tzedaka like on Purim (Matanot L’Evyonim).
One should eat a festive meal (seudat mitzvah) and between courses recite songs from Yehuda HaLevi and the following chapters from Tehilim (Psalms) 30, 144, 146, 149, 150.
According to Rabbi Shmuel Katz, researcher of the Chief Rabbinate, the Chief Rabbis suggested saying Hallel at Mincha since it was unclear if it would officially be declared a day off from work and they wanted as many people as possible to be able to attend the service. Once it was declared to be an official day off, the recitation of Hallel was moved to the morning.
By asking the community to give Matanot L’Evyonim, the Halachic status of the day was made on par with the rabbinic holidays, Chanuka and Purim.
The Rabbanut did publicly announce that Yom Hamedina would be a break in the mourning of Sefirat HaOmer (similar to Lag B’Omer) and celebrations, weddings and haircuts would be allowed (they got a lot of flack for this statement from the Haredi community).
In the end, it was announced that Tachnun would not be recited, Hallel would be said in Shacharit without a bracha, there would be a memorial service for the fallen soldiers and a Mishaberach prayer would be said for the State of Israel. They would have a feast with songs and distribute gifts to the poor.
There were differing opinions of whether or not to say Hallel with a Bracha, many only taking it on after 1967 when Jerusalem was united.
A special prayer service was also established including sections of Lecha Dodi and Shehechiyanu in the evening and sections from the Tfilot of Shabbat, Hallel and a special Haftara in the morning (not everyone agreed with saying Shehechiyanu either. The compromise was that they could wear a new garment and say Shehechiyanu over the garment if they didn’t think that the establishment of the State of Israel was enough of a reason to make the blessing).
Two traditions that seem to have gotten lost are the singing of specific chapters of Tehilim at the meal and the giving of gifts to the poor. As we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut this week, it would be nice to incorporate these traditions, to make the meal more of a seudat mitzvah, elevating the Bar-b-q that most Israelis have with religious songs as well as to give gifts to the poor to make the holiday one of the happiest days of the year for everyone, especially those who otherwise may not be able to afford to celebrate.
Two years ago, Lucy Levin, a Bat Mitzvah student from New York raised funds to send to Israel to provide gift packages for lone soldiers and victims of terror for Yom Ha’atzmaut. Lucy’s gift packages brightened up the day of children who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks as well as soldiers who are in Israel on their own without any family support.
If you would like to follow in Lucy’s tradition and provide a gift package in honor of Yom Ha’atzmaut for a lone soldier, a child who was a victim of terror, a homebound senior citizen or a border patrol officer please let me know and we will arrange it. Each package is $54 and is tax deductible.